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Analytical Validation and Impact Assessment of On-Site Evidence Screening via Ambient Sampling, Portable Mass Spectrometry

Award Information

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $299,753)

As submitted by the applicant: Forensic evidentiary backlogs are indicative of the growing need for cost-effective, high-throughput instrumental methods. One such emerging technology that shows high promise in meeting this need, while also allowing on-site investigation, is portable mass spectrometric instrumentation, particularly that which enables the coupling to rapid, ambient ionization methods. Such technology has the potential to assess the probative value of chemical evidence at the crime scene, requiring only pertinent samples to be sent to off-site laboratories for confirmation, easing the burden of casework and therefore reducing the magnitude of backlogged evidence. Screening of physical evidence at the crime scene also has the capability to rapidly determine whether a criminal investigation is needed and provide law enforcement personnel with necessary information in a timely manner, which in many cases is crucial. Herein, rapid, direct evidence screening methods will be investigated on a commercially- available, portable mass spectrometer, culminating in a fieldable instrument that is simplistic in operation, yet robust to the needs of today’s forensic and law enforcement practitioners. Application to emerging drug classes and toxicological assessments will be investigated, and rigorous analytical validation using common illicit chemicals will be performed to ensure that reliable and reproducible usage by non-technical operators is feasible. Current and past case law will be examined to evaluate Fourth Amendment legality of using this technology to prompt a “probable cause” search. The financial viability of instrument-based probative and confirmatory analysis of forensic evidence in the field over current off-site laboratory processing will also be assessed using fiscal-impact models. The proposed interdisciplinary research is designed to not just anticipate, but to predetermine the legal and economic impacts stemming from adopting this technology for field usage to help inform and guide forensic science policy and practice. Principle research questions that will be addressed in order to assess feasibility, performance, and potential impact of the proposed technology include the following: (i) Can the proposed technology be adapted for routine and reliable usage by non-technical operators? (ii) Is the analytical performance of the technology on par with currently established methods for forensic evidence processing? (iii) Can the technology be used to prompt “probable cause” searching by law enforcement in innovative, yet legal, ways? (iv)What are the financial benefits of the proposed technology in comparison to current practices? (v) What is the expected reduction in controlled substances requests under the proposed system and the subsequent expected reduction in evidence backlogs? This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 21, 2015